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NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (5-2) at Philadelphia (4-2)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - As busy as it normally is at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia for a Philadelphia Eagles home game, the town will be bopping to the extreme Sunday, on perhaps one of the most memorable sports days in the City of Brotherly Love's history.
Not only are the hated NFC East-rival New York Giants in town seeking a measure of revenge against an Eagles team that pilfered their hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions, but the legendary New York Yankees will be paying a visit to Citizens Bank Park to take on the Phillies in Game 4 of the World Series down the street.
The Giants get the first shot at ruining at least half of the day for Philly fans, before the Yankees and Phils square off under the lights across the street at 8:00 p.m. (ET),
The Giants lost to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs last year at home, and have no doubt forgotten about it given their current problems. They will ride into the Linc for a 1:00 p.m. (ET) showdown on a two-game losing streak that followed a 5-0 start, including last Sunday's 24-17 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
The G-Men had a 14-10 lead at halftime before two Arizona TDs in the third quarter helped to seal their fate. New York played a pretty tight defensive game, but a few breakdowns from the top-ranked unit and inconsistent play by Eli Manning couldn't prevent it from losing a firm grip on first place in the NFC East.
Manning had 243 passing yards, one touchdown and three costly INTs in the loss to the Cardinals, and was sacked three times after going down that many times over the first six contests. The former No. 1 draft pick, who passed for 10 touchdowns with two interceptions through the first five games, has been picked off four times and thrown just two TD passes during the current skid.
The Giants, who had won 15 in a row when leading at halftime, hope that Manning's 4-0 record as a starter in the regular season at Lincoln Financial Field comes in handy in the first meeting of the season against the Eagles.
Philadelphia and Dallas are both 4-2 and now sit right behind New York in the division standings, and the Giants could find themselves in third place in the NFC East with another setback.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, has won three of its last four games and rebounded from a ghastly loss in Oakland by posting a 27-17 victory against the division- rival Washington Redskins Monday night at FedEx Field. The Birds' tour through the NFC East continues with Sunday's battle with the Giants, followed by a November 8 matchup versus Dallas .
Donovan McNabb hasn't been particularly sharp over the past two weeks, as one week after suffering six sacks and failing to lead a touchdown drive on a 22- of-46 passing day against the Raiders, he recorded just 156 yards in Washington, with 57 coming on a touchdown pass to emerging star DeSean Jackson.
For the year, though, McNabb has thrown just one interception with six touchdown tosses, and many of his problems have been a by-product of shoddy protection that has surrendered 12 sacks of the perennial Pro Bowler in the past three games. The Eagles' offensive line has been bruised this season, though the injured list does not include tackle Winston Justice, who will be looking for redemption after the then-rookie gave up six sacks to defensive end Osi Umenyiora in a loss at Giants Stadium during the 2007 campaign.
Umenyiora and fellow end Justin Tuck will try again to humiliate Justice, now the Eagles' starting right tackle. One thing Justice might not be doing, however, is blocking for Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook. Westbrook suffered a concussion early in Monday's loss when Redskins linebacker London Fletcher's knee crashed into the running back's head. Westbrook was briefly unconscious before walking off on his own power. According to Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder, Westbrook is still battling with headaches and will be put through a series of tests before his return is determined. The Eagles' top offensive weapon the past few years, Westbrook is a game-time decision.
The Giants hold a 79-67-2 edge in a regular season series that dates back to the 1933 season, but had a three-game winning streak in the series snapped with a 20-14 home loss in Week 14 of last season. New York was a 36-31 winner at Philadelphia in Week 10, and swept the 2007 home-and-home, including a 16-13 victory at Lincoln Financial Field. The Giants are 4-0 in regular season games played in Philadelphia since last losing such a contest in 2004.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have split a total of four postseason matchups all-time. The Eagles evened that series with the aforementioned 23-11 win in last year's NFC Divisional Playoff. Philadelphia was also a 23-20 home winner in a 2006 NFC First-Round Playoff, while Big Blue took a 20-10 home decision in a 2000 NFC Divisional Playoff and a 27-21 triumph in a 1981 NFC First-Round Playoff at Veterans Stadium.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid is 11-12 against New York all-time, including 2-1 in the postseason. The Giants' Tom Coughlin is 8-6 versus Philadelphia, with two of the wins dating back to his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and is 7-6 against Reid in his career.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
As mentioned, Manning (1,633 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs) hasn't been playing up to par the past few weeks, and needs a fresh slate in what will be one of the biggest games on the schedule. He may not have right tackle Kareem McKenzie for the game after the big Penn State product missed last week's loss to Arizona with a groin injury. Rookie William Beatty made his first start in McKenzie's place and did a solid job. Beatty got some aid from the running backs, giving Manning lanes to find Steve Smith (594 yards, 4 TDs), Mario Manningham (439 yards, 4 TDs) and rookie Hakeem Nicks (315 yards, 4 TDs). All three deep threats have four TD catches apiece, and match up well with Philadelphia's defensive backfield. Smith will likely give the Eagles the most problems, and is first in the NFC and second in the league with 45 receptions. Tight end Kevin Boss (196 yards) has yet to make much of a difference this season, but burned the Birds with six catches for 69 yards and a touchdown in his last game at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles allowed 246 yards through the air to lowly Redskins QB Jason Campbell last week, but managed to record a key interception when linebacker Will Witherspoon intercepted Campbell and returned the pick for a first-half touchdown. The Eagles are now third in the NFL with 12 INTs and ninth in the league against the pass, allowing 190.2 yards per contest. Veteran cornerbacks Sheldon Brown (18 tackles, 3 INTs) and Asante Samuel (18 tackles, 4 INTs) will have primary responsibility against the corners. Samuel leads the Eagles in picks and has been showing more aggression in tackling. He must have been watching hard-hitting safety Quintin Mikell (31 tackles, INT), who is second on the team in tackles. Mikell is slowly taking the place of fan favorite and current Broncos safety Brian Dawkins as the enforcer in the secondary. Defensive ends Trent Cole (27 tackles, 6.5 sacks) and Juqua Parker (11 tackles, 3 sacks) will apply the pressure on Manning, while Cole ended with two sacks on Monday.
The Giants will try to set up the pass by unleashing bulky back Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs (464 yards, 2 TDs) ended a three-game scoring drought and posted 76 yards and a touchdown on 13 touches versus the Cardinals. Jacobs had just 33 yards on seven attempts the week before at New Orleans, in a game in which the Giants had to play from behind throughout. When Jacobs has 100 yards or more in a game, the Giants are 8-1. He had 126 yards and two scores in a regular season win at Philadelphia last Nov. 9th, also his most recent 100-yard game. Ahmad Bradshaw is a nice change-of-pace back and has fit in quite well following Derrick Ward's defection to Tampa Bay. Bradshaw (455 yards, 3 TDs) ranks second in the NFL with 5.7 yards per carry and has double digits in carries in five straight and six of seven contests this season. He has totaled just 80 yards on 22 carries the last two weeks, however, after a season-high 110 yards in a win versus Oakland.
Philadelphia will face a true test trying to bring down the behemoth Jacobs, while the quick Bradshaw is a dangerous runner as well. Eagles tackles Brodrick Bunkley (19 tackles, sack) and Mike Patterson (18 tackles, 1/2 sack) are the run stoppers up front and create space for the linebackers. Philadelphia is 11th against the rush this season and as mentioned, got a big first impression from middle linebacker Witherspoon (8 tackles, sack, INT) last week. Witherspoon, acquired in a trade from St. Louis last week, made his Philly debut with eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and the interception for a score.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
McNabb (768 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT) said this week he needs to work on his mechanics, a reaction to the fact that he missed a few open receivers Monday. This is nothing new to McNabb, whose accuracy has been in question ever since he was selected No. 2 overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. In his defense, McNabb is still recovering from a broken rib suffered in a Week 1 win at Carolina. He has been wearing a protective flak jacket to protect the injury. The passing game could be relied on even more with Westbrook recovering from his concussion, and the fact that McNabb has won nine of his last 13 starts versus the Giants should lend some confidence to that effort. Jackson (423 yards, 3 TDs) has been McNabb's home run hitter this season and lit up the scoreboard again in Washington. The punt return threat and speedy second-year wideout has five TDs this season - all 50 yards or more. Rookie receiver Jeremy Maclin (246 yards, 2 TDs) has stepped up his game the last three weeks in place of injured WR Kevin Curtis, while tight end Brent Celek (386 yards, 2 TDs) leads the team in receptions with 33. Celek had only three catches for eight yards on Monday, but leads all NFC tight ends in yards.
The Giants are tops in the NFL in yards allowed this season with only 262.0 per game. Philadelphia sets up the run by throwing the football in the West Coast offense, which is why cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (28 tackles, sack, 2 INTs) and Corey Webster (22 tackles, INT) have to bump Jackson and Maclin off the line of scrimmage. Thomas recorded an interception last week and is tied with injured safety Kenny Phillips for the team lead with two. With Phillips out for the year, safeties C.C. Brown (39 tackles) and Michael Johnson (27 tackles, sack) are security blankets if coverage breaks down. This week should be a nice break for the New York secondary after dealing with the Arizona trio of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston a week ago.
Westbrook (197 yards, TD) may not see action on Sunday, but if he does, the Giants will likely know it. The former Villanova star owns 1,196 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in the past nine matchups against the G-Men. If Westbrook is unable to go on Sunday, rookie running back and leading rusher LeSean McCoy (212 yards, TD) will carry the bulk of the load. McCoy has been impressive in his first year out of Pittsburgh, and has been running between the tackles with relative ease. The shifty back carried the ball 14 times for 37 yards against the 'Skins. Despite his injury, McNabb can run too, posting 60 yards and a score on 13 scrambles. The Eagles are 18th in NFL rushing this season.
New York has often had problems with Westbrook in the past, and may dodge a bullet if the former Walter Payton Award winner is unable to play. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce (50 tackles, sack) is once again the team's leader in tackles, and had 10 stops against the Cardinals last weekend, while fellow LB Chase Blackburn (35 tackles 1/2 sack) is third on New York in stops. He had four tackles in the recent loss. Tackles Fred Robbins (15 tackles) and Barry Coefield (10 tackles) will mostly be busy trying to collapse the pocket, because the Eagles figure to be passing early and often, leaving ends Tuck and Umenyiora responsible for making McNabb's day as miserable as possible. The Giants have won 10 straight when Tuck has a sack.
This is a rare fantasy matchup in which at least five players from each side can ruin an opposing owner's day. Starting with the Eagles, the entire offense with McNabb, Westbrook (if available), McCoy (if Westbrook out), Jackson, Maclin, Celek, kicker David Akers and the defense all serve as logical choices for this week. McNabb and Jackson are the best picks, and so is Westbrook if healthy. Meanwhile, any of New York's top three receivers can have a breakout performance, a situation that can give owners headaches. Manning is a tough choice and should only be in the lineup if your starter has a bye or injured. Jacobs always plays tough against the Eagles, and could be seen bouncing defenders off the Philly turf Sunday. The same goes for Bradshaw, minus the brute strength, and the Pierce-led defense.
Both of these clubs are looking to bounce back from mediocre outings in Week 7, but the Giants seem especially due for a tough road win at Philadelphia. The Eagles are going to have trouble if Westbrook is out, and New York knows that. Expect to see a lot of different formations and stunts from Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. All the New York defense has to do is roll out the tape of the Oakland-Philadelphia matchup a few weeks ago to find a blueprint on how to stop Philly's West Coast style. Tuck and Umenyiora will take center stage against McNabb and the Eagles offensive line in front of a hostile crowd, and cherish every second of it.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 23, Eagles 14
10/29 10:50:24 ET